Wordsanctuary Revisited

Musings of a writer-teacher-counselor.

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Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

I am inquisitive and have worked in writing, editing, and teaching. I am a citizen of the USA and also concerned about the world. This is an addendum to my original blog, Wordsanctuary. That's at www.wordsanctuary.blogspot.com Please check out my column at www.insidehighered.com, "A Kinder Campus." Click on Career Advice to find it. Thanks for stopping by.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ethics for lunch: SPJ program at City Club January 11, 2012

After an exhilarating trip to the beautiful city of Seattle for the Modern Language Association's annual conference, I returned to Cleveland eager to beat winter doldrums and squeeze in new insights before my schedule is ruled by my writing classes.

So it was off to the City Club for a light lunch and filling serving of food-for-thought as County Executive Ed FitzGerald, Harlan Spector of the Plain Dealer and Lynda Mayer of the League of Women Voters compared the county's ethical climate one year ago to now. "County Government Ethics: A Followup One Year Later" was sponsored by the Cleveland chapter of Society of Professional Journalists." Carrie Buchanan, assistant professor of communication at John Carroll University and chapter president, did the introductions.

FitzGerald followed a compare/contrast structure for his comments, which made it easy to take swirling notes in a dimly lit room. And the rapt attention of attendees gave me some hope that this is a topic that will sustain civic focus for some time, with not just an expectation of ethical behavior, but also enforcement and engagement.

“Thank you for embarrassing me with the cover of the [Inside Cleveland Business] magazine,” Fitzgerald quipped to Buchanan as he began. (She held it up as she introduced him.) FitzGerald appeared in the Power 100 issue and acknowledged that the public’s trust was at “an all time low” when he took office. “We’re starting to restore some trust,” he said. FitzGerald offered the terms “opaque,” “insular,” “inefficient” and (hesitating) “anti-intellectual” to describe the former administration -- though he was quick to say that he was not calling himself an intellectual. He offered that nuanced policy debates in the past were lacking and collaborations with local universities

There were what he called "big personalities” in county government "[but] I would defy anyone to tell me what their philosophy was.” He added that “there was very little public discussion of why policies were enacted in the first place.” FitzGerald stressed that now there are stricter codes of enforcement of county employee behavior, with two times as many employees disciplined as before in the past year, even though the work force is leaner. A department-by-department review led to streamlining some positions, with about a 7 percent cut, down to 320 employees.

Looking into the future, he said that even if a future county executive is “lax” there needs to be teeth enough in ethics’ code that there is somewhere for a future whistle blower to go. In the past, “the system was overloaded with patronage,” he said. Even summer jobs of minor responsibility were often doled out without sufficient oversight, and these have been replaced with competitive fellowships.

He offered a nod to the media spotlight pointed at the county during the sometime “murky” November to January changeover period between 2010 and 2011. There was less of the “usual mad shuffle to change job titles” and other processes that complicate the changing of administration, FitzGerald said. “That is a sea change difference. We are as transparent as we can possibly be,” he said. “We try to post everything on the net.”

Job performance has been scrutinized, he suggested, and “we’re trying to switch to a merit system . . .[and] every employee has been evaluated.” In the past, he said, personal relationships -- even “a club atmosphere” -- was the norm. He was somewhat surprised that postings for new jobs were not met with as many applicants as he anticipated. In addition, clear benchmarks for job performance were lacking.

Spector said that he “was there for the sausage-making that went into the ethics ordinance” and that “it came together without a lot of terrible bickering.” He felt that putting a conservative Republican, David Greenspan, as chair of the ethics committee “was a pretty good move” and added that “it’s probably the toughest ethics ordinance in the state.”

Mayer served on the transition team that prepared the ethics ordinance and said that Pittsburgh, Jacksonville and Milwaukee had particularly relevant ordinances but she had pored over perhaps 20 more. “We agree that we really like the ethics ordinance [we drafted],” she said. “Right now we are really among the best.” She is now in "a wait and see mode,” explaining “we don’t have an ethics board." In the future, if fewer officials are focused on ethics or a vigilant inspector general has his/her position, budget and/or staff cut, conditions could deteriorate.

“Should the inspector general’s office be more independent, and how is that going to happen?” Buchanan asked during the Q/A segment.

Worth pondering.

Tom Troy, "Cuyahoga boasts strongest ethics policy of Ohio's 87 other counties"
Toledo Blade 1/12/2012

Maria Shine Stewart, "Leaders ponder effect of election"
Tri-County Business Journal October 2010, page 1 jumps to 16


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